Locals abuzz about beekeeping
“Really, honey is just bee vomit,” says “The Bee Guy,” Doug Fryer, 47, as he reaches his bare hands into a buzzing hive at the Bill White Farm.
Holding a square section of a delicate hive covered with fuzzy honey bees, Fryer points out the many complex stages of honey production to students from Summit Community Garden’s “Introduction to Bees” class this past weekend.
The class invited locals to explore the fascinating lives of honeybees and learn how to start their own hives. Fryer (a former pro-snowboarder and 26-year Summit County emergency first responder) fell in love with beekeeping because it involves his favorite subjects: biology, agriculture, social systems, and honey.
After eight years of beekeeping at high elevation, Fryer now runs hives for businesses such as High West Distillery, Blue Sky Ranch and the Bill White Restaurant Group.
Beekeepers are like “compulsive gamblers,” says Fryer. Despite the unpredictable difficulties that come along with the hobby (such as dead queens, parasites, and colony collapse) you get “just enough honey and fun,” to keep trying year after year.
In the recent decade, bee populations have been declining at a steady rate due to a number of factors including insecticides, parasites and commercial bee overproduction.
Bees are a vital link in our ecosystem, responsible for pollination of an estimated 80 percent of all food crops in the United States. A 30 percent decrease in the national bee population over the last five years has raised major concerns for agriculture. At the same time, beekeeping has become a more popular hobby “as people pay more attention to food production … and the vital part pollinators play,” says Fryer.
Try it yourself?
Before anyone invests time and money into starting their own hive, they should assess their overall bee comfort level. “If you don’t like things flying at your face or getting stung, [beekeeping] may not be for you,” says Fryer. It’s also important to chat with neighbors or your home owners association to state your intentions and discuss allergy concerns.
There are currently no laws prohibiting beekeeping in Summit County or Park City. Recently, Fryer helped a couple establish a hive on the deck of their Bear Hollow townhouse, proving that it doesn’t take a lot space to keep a hive.
Depending on your beekeeping style (very hands-on or low maintenance), there are different types of hives and bees to consider. The low-budget and minimal effort hive is called a Top Bar hive and can be made out of scrap lumber for about $50. The more popular, hands-on and pre-fabricated option is called a Langstroth Hive, which has many moving parts for about $300.
The type of bees chosen to fill the hive is critical. There are about 900 native species of bees in Utah. However, most domestic beekeepers use European honeybees due to their docile nature and prolific honey yields.
Fryer’s hives are made up of Italian and Russian honeybees that have very distinct personalities. The Russian bees are heartier, a bit defensive and more apt to live at higher elevations while “the Italian bees won’t be active until around 10 a.m.,” Fryer says. “They are still enjoying their cappuccinos and having a cigarette by that time.”
Once a new hive is buzzing along, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food encourages beekeepers to apply for a license ($10 for up to 20 hives). Registering your hive helps track and prevent the spread of disease or pests in local hives.
Aspiring beekeeper Roger Duck, 63, has always loved escaping his home of Austin, Texas to visit Park City in the summertime. As an advocate for local food, Duck has a plot at the Summit Community Garden and tries to join whatever classes they offer while he’s in town.
“The Community Gardens here are the best I’ve ever seen,” says Duck. “It’s a wonderful resource for learning how to grow organically.” He hopes to build upon what he’s learned at the gardens by starting an organic farm in the Kamas Valley to provide local restaurants with fresh produce all year.
“The most supportive thing people can do to help honey bees … is to reduce, if not get rid of their lawns,” says Fryer. Think “less lawn more meadows.”
Small purple and yellow blossoming native flowers such as Russian sage, thyme, American vetch, and sedum are favorites among Utah bees. Plant these in your yard and the neighborhood bee populations will thank you.
For more information about bees or starting a hive contact the Summit Community Gardens at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A full list of summer events and classes is available on their website, summitcommunitygardens.org.
Anita Lewis, Brent Ovard and Travis English were influential in shaping how residents interact with the county.